There are several events in your childhood that will scar you for life. The unexpected death of a loved one, a terrible car crash, your parents getting a divorce, going to a funeral, getting a part-time job at a fast food restaurant, etc. Your mind is at its most impressionable, vulnerable state. But perhaps the most scarring and traumatic experience every kid faces is the horrifying realization that an overweight man in a red suit doesn’t give you free shit on Christmas morning.
I like to think I was pretty savvy as a kid. I could read people. I knew when I was getting taken for a ride, so to speak. Ever since Cary Silverman charged me 25% interest on the dollar I borrowed to buy a Snickers in the second grade, I’ve been apprehensive to trust people. But for the life of me, I legitimately thought Santa was a real person. I thought it was merely a coincidence that Santa and my mom had nearly identical handwriting. I thought that Santa really did call my house on Christmas Eve, and that it was so cool when his voice and my neighbor’s voice were strikingly similar. I even worked up this scenario in my head that my neighbor was, in fact, Santa. Just like Tim Allen. Santa was real to me, damn it.
That all changed one morning in my fourth grade homeroom. It wasn’t even Christmas season. It was sometime in September or October, I can’t quite pinpoint it, but when I really think about it, Christmastime is year-round when you’re 10 years old. Regardless, I was at that borderline age where I still thought Santa was real, but I had my suspicions. Other kids’ beliefs were teetering, but I remained steadfast in my faith in St. Nick.
My teacher’s name was Mrs. Quinn, an older, crass woman who was my absolute worst nightmare and always had her sights set on making my life a living hell. She was a mixture of Miss Trunchbull from Matilda and Nurse Ratched from One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. Fourth grade was as a dark time. I’ve blocked most of it out of my mind, except for one, distinct, traumatizing memory.
The discussion in class was likely something about colors, or state history or long division. I can’t remember. Then the conversation went south. It hit me like that pile of garbage hit McMurphy at the end of Robocop. Mrs. Quinn was writing on the blackboard and she whipped around and uttered the words no 10-year-old wants to hear:
“Now, I think we all know that Santa Claus isn’t real.”
There was silence in the classroom. What was once a lively classroom discussion about social studies or whatever had been turned into the darkest moment of my childhood (I had a pretty non-traumatic childhood). My innocence was shattered along with the rest of my classmates’. It was like when the Fellowship of the Ring watched Mount Doom explode with Frodo and Sam still presumably inside. God, I’m good at similes.
Then the tears started flowing. It started with the girls, then about half of the classroom erupted into tears. I stood tall in the face of adversity, choking back the tears and the sadness. Mrs. Quinn stood at the head of the class, almost with a sick sense of pride. After all, this was a private Catholic school. She went on about the true meaning of Christmas and how the birth of Jesus Christ was the real reason we celebrated Christmas. No matter how hard she tried, she had just destroyed the entire belief system of America’s youth. Santa Claus was, in fact, not a real thing.
After the sadness, came anger. I had been duped. Swindled. Christmas was no longer a majestic event on the calendar where we got presents from a home invader. No, it was my parents all along. How could they let this happen? How could they deceive me for so long? The most important holiday of the year to me was built upon a throne of lies. The guilt that set in afterward was crushing. Just last Christmas, I had shouted the praises of a false idol for bestowing the bounty of a brand new Sega Genesis, instead of endlessly thanking my parents for giving me a gift I had desired for so long.
The blowback from the great Santa reveal of 1995 was sweeping. Parents called for Mrs. Quinn to be fired. Emergency PTA meetings were called. Kids didn’t show up for school the next day. At home, it was my first brush of passive aggressiveness towards my parents. Finally, the showdown happened. These atrocities would not stand. I had to hear the news from my parents, the ones who had led me to believe that pulling a B&E was totally kosher, as long as it was on Christmas Eve.
My mom sat me down and broke the news to me later that week. My world was turned upside down. Santa wasn’t real.
In the weeks following, I had to put on a brave face and keep up the charade. I still had a 7-year-old little brother who believed in Santa. I had to keep up the lie that had crushed my world.
The initial shock eventually wore off and Christmas is still my favorite holiday, despite being founded on a horrible lie that rocked my world in 1995. I can’t decide what I’ll tell my own children when the subject of Santa comes up. I still think the thought of a jolly, Germanic man derived from Pagan lore delivering me presents on Christmas morning is awesome, yet incredibly disturbing, and who am I to deny my future children that dream?